Ed. Note: I posted Andrew’s take on Komali earlier this morning. I didn’t realize that Sarah Reiss was also posting her first take on Komali. Somebody took down Andrew’s post but I’m putting it back up because today is officially “Let’s Talk About Komali Day” and we will move on tomorrow.
When I saw Salum owner Abraham Salum last week, he invited me to sample the menu at his new restaurant, Komali. Since he knows what I look like so I cannot review his places. I accepted his invitation so that I could describe the restaurant and explain what it is like to eat there. More anonymous souls from this site, will review it a little later.
For Abraham Salum, Komail is an intensely personal venture. He wants it to be his expression of the best of Mexican food culture. He has collected a lifetime’s experience of recipes starting with some from his mother’s kitchen in Mexico City. He has incorporated ideas he’s learned from traveling across Mexico to produce a melting pot menu that stands as one of the broadest representations of authentic Mexican cuisine in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
We started with Queso de Cabra $9 (morita chile goat cheese topped with a sweet piloncillo sauce and grilled bread). At its most elemental, this is toast with cheese to spread on it. However, such a description is disinformation to the unwitting. The goat cheese (from Caprino Royale) is spicy from the morita (smoked and dried red jalapeno) but the heat is leavened by the fatty mass of the cheese body. The cheese does double duty, as it also acts as a foil to the piercingly sweet piloncillo sauce. Like honey with cheese, piloncillo is analogous to a condiment in that seems to draw the flavor out of goat cheese. Placing it in this recipe turns its unrefined nature into a virtue rather than a vice.
Our next appetizer was Tamalitos del dia ($8.50) (Oaxaca style tamales topped with mole coloradito). Three tamales individually wrapped in banana leaf with mole Coloradito (a red mole from Oaxaca) made without chocolate. The three were: Pork with a red sauce, chicken with a tomatillo sauce, and cheese with poblano raja. Three tamales, you might say, would be enough alone to fill you up. But one of Komali’s endless string of surprises was just how light these were. We could press on, and we did.
Next were samples of the three soups on the menu. Cream de Poblano ($6) (Poblano cream with tortilla strips, corn and queso fresco) was sweet due to the pureed poblano, but not monotonous thanks to the deep-fried tortilla strips and sharp cilantro garnish. Sopa de Fideo con Frijol ($6½ ) Cream of black beans with fideo seco, avocado, queso fresco and cilantro. This was Abraham Salum’s take on black bean soup, and once more a light rendition of a familiar favorite. Again, he shows his awareness of the importance of textual variety in a dish with the addition of fideo seco (dried pasta noodles) as can be seen in the picture.
Finally the piéce de resistance of the night (by my book) Huatape Verde de Mariscos ($10) Tomatillo shrimp and avocado leaf broth with mixed seafood. This may be the best seafood soup in town. The flavor of sweet shrimp shines through the broth bright and clear (I suspect it was added late and not left to braise in the soup all night). It was very subtle how the fruitiness of the tomatillo and the brininess of the seafood interacted. This stood out as a notable dish in the best course of the night.
On to an item from the Del Mar section of the menu: Vuelve a la Vida ($18½) (Fish, shrimp, oysters, octopus and scallop cocktail with fresh avocado). This was the kind of seafood cocktail that took me straight back to days in the Yucatan and eating in local restaurants after diving. It has variety in the seafood, piquancy and tomato in the sauce, and the buttery-ness of ripe avocado flesh on top. Sure, you might skip seafood cocktail here because it is widely available around town and you want to try something more unusual from the menu, but this one can serve as a reference point.
Our meat course was Enchiladas de pollo en Salsa verde ($14) Chicken enchiladas topped with tomatillo salsa, lettuce, avocado and Mexican crema. Our closest dish to mainstream Dallas/Fort Worth Mexican. Chicken in enchiladas are always good in the earthiness of homemade corn tortillas (and they are homemade here). I would have liked a more piquant sauce, but the velvety, sweet tomatillo would satisfy most palates.
At this point we weren’t stuffed. Komali isn’t one of those places where you don’t want dessert because you don’t know if you will fit through the door of the car. Thus far Komali had shown itself to be committed to lightness in every menu creation. All that ends at the dessert section of the menu. That has Abraham Salum’s own creations (he is a trained pastry chef) and they are firmly grounded in the sweet/chocolate/creamy end of the taste continuum. I think his time in France must have played at least some role in Crepas de cajeta ($7) (Crepes with goats’ milk cajeta, caramelized plantains and toasted pecans). Yes, there was the textual interest. Yes, there was the contrast between the earthiness of the crepes and the tartness of the strawberries. But, lurking under there
somewhere, out of site, was a calorie, I am sure. Churros con chocolate ($6½) (Crispy sugar dusted churros with a cup of Mexican ‘abuelita’ hot chocolate). Cinnamon isn’t listed in the ingredients, but I thought it was in there. As I dipped my churro in the chocolate, I was thinking that it was just like a doughnut with a crispy exterior and shaped to be dipped. It reminded me of breakfast in Spain. I now find that the folks at Wikipedia got there first. No worry. It is still deceptively easy to chow on.
The room at Komali exudes the tech of peroxide-white walls interspersed with familiar elements like the fireplace at the end of the room. A band of mirror at seated eye height breaks the continuity between the bench seats and the walls, as well as providing CIA operatives whose dates insist on sitting facing out (because Oprah said to do that) with the chance to surreptitiously survey new diners as they arrive. We dined on President’s Day but didn’t see a single president, despite the place being over two thirds full on Monday. Clever sound deadening measures make Komali more comfortable than many medium-sized restaurants but the buzz can rise when it gets busy. A “drive by viewing” the previous Saturday found the place packed. With less than three weeks under the staff’s belts you may to hold off on a weekend visit for a month or so. Our service from Juan Pablo was exquisite, but he knew who I was. I was a guest on this visit but my reservation is already made for my next visit, on my dime.
Sure Komali is homely, but don’t be lulled into thinking it only covers other people’s songs. It is also aspirational, as evidenced by the twists on found recipes and the use of unusual and providentially strong ingredients. The challenge now for Abraham Salum is to maintain the quality of the experience while he runs two restaurants simultaneously. If he succeeds, Komali will prove to be one of the most significant openings in the Dallas/Fort Worth area this year and possibly more widely.